Pleasant Hills to Jindera via Walla Walla
Tuesday November 3, 2015, 40 miles (64 km) – Total so far: 690 miles (1,111 km)
The dew drips onto the grass from the tent fly. The inside condensation drips onto the main tent body. The humid air is still, but definitely not silent. The parrot family is greeting the morning with its normal raucous screeching.
The sun makes its way up over the horizon and then crests the toilet block. I awake while the tent is still in shade. I’ve slept hard and sound; somehow I concocted the perfect pillow out of my spare clothing and had no lumps under my sleeping pad. It is rare to get it perfect!
My greeting to the day is a series of violent sneezes, deep sniffing which is ineffectual, and eventually a whole bunch of runny snot expelled into some napkins. My hayfever starts up in late August and gets worse until it peaks in December. Luckily, I am not wheezy today, just snotty and sore-throated.
I pull off the tent fly and drape it across benches in the sun. I set the tent up at an angle against another bench and then spread out the groundsheet on the concrete. While all the dampness slowly disappears, I get myself and the bike ready to go.
An hour later we are climbing the hill back up out of town among the tall gum trees that line the road. We turn right on the Alma Park Road and have a short climb on a wide road between fields of canola about ready for harvest.
Then, we get a great downhill that carries us quickly down toward the creeks of a wide valley all planted to wheat. The views off the hill are long. The wheat is turning golden and the landscape before us has started to lose its green vibrancy. Isolated paddock trees stand among the wheat, and in the distance, clumps of trees cluster about ridge lines. The hills just roll away and onward, as if we are in a sea riding among the crests of gentle waves. From this distance, the wheat covering the low hills and flats looks almost like plush carpet with its long lush stalks and feathery tips.
Onward we go. There are small inclines to climb, but the trend is mostly downhill. There are very few cars on the road. I see less than 10 in two hours of pedalling through the crops and pastures of late spring. I keep telling myself that the wind is a crosswind – just from the east instead of the west. But who am I kidding? It really is a quartering headwind and direct headwind when the road angles southeast. However, it is generally light and not gusty like yesterday. Besides, when you aren’t on tour, you need all the extra options for gaining fitness as you can get, right? Yes, I tend to be a glass half-full kind of a gal.
After a while we reach the locality of Alma Park – another area settled by the Lutherans. The direction I’m heading means I see the cemetery first – tall, grey and faded headstones and a few graves surrounded by rusty iron fencing. The cluster of headstones is set amongst tall, golden grass on a corner lot at the edge of almost forever. Interestingly, there are two tiny, dark green pit toilets up in the corner under the pines.
A couple kilometres further on, we next come to the church. It was built in 1925 with a conservative use of silky stained glass and a preponderance of sturdy red brick. The double doors suggest a greater population at one time. Across the the dusty dirt parking lot is a large church hall with extensions and more than a few layers of paint. It is all quiet now, but the church still holds services once a month and on the major Christian holidays.
A couple kilometres further again, we come to the old school site, active between 1875 and 1975. Nothing is left now but a concrete slab and metal climbing equipment rusting away between the regrowth trees and saplings. Then a bit down the road again, we come across the sign denoting the old post office site. From my direction of travel, we started with death and ended with communication. Heading north, you’d end with death instead.
We stop for some snacks in the miserly shade of a roadside eucalypt. Eucalypt trees are a bit like oak trees back home. They can be scraggly and quick to shed leaves and limbs when it’s hot or dry or just because. The trees don’t seem to care much about being full and luscious – anything extraneous is easy to part with, it seems. The leaves themselves are pale green and leathery. The leaves hang down vertically, as well – all to shed the heat and sun that can be so brutal here.
As I inhale an apple and a chocolate bar, I swat the zillions of flies and stomp my legs to shake them off my shins. They leave the frog and turtle alone, so their smiles are big as usual. Plus, the crew have a nice view of a dam with some ducks making v-shaped bow lines as they nonchalantly shove off from our side of the water. I try to keep the crew happy with breaks and campsites near habitat!
We trundle on down the road. Our nice pavement eventually ends. I wonder if anyone ever gets funding to repave an entire road? We ride onto coarse chip seal and increase our resistance training over the large stones. Soon enough, we are back to the Walbundrie-Culcairn Road and then a nice downhill to Billabong Creek on our way back to Walla Walla.
I stop for a Coke and sit in the shade on the sidewalk by the swimming pool. There’s more happening here than you’d think there’d be for a town this size, but they manufacture big ol’ sheds here, as well as Kotzur silos. They also do some grain handling. There is a car dealership and repair shop, plus an agricultural equipment dealer. I ponder the size and function of the machinery as I down the Coke. The pub up the street already has the music blaring in anticipation of a Melbourne Cup crowd later today. The lawn bowling club appears to have a function on today, too. The greenskeeper is out sweeping (or whatever it is they do – vacuuming?) the greens as I ride on out of town.
The rest of the ride is a well-worn path from many day rides over the last six years. There’s the long gentle incline away from Walla between two ridges of granite along the valley floor, then the short, steep climb over the drainage divide, then the long, flowing descent through open woodland and open pasture, then the undulating ups and downs on shit pavement back toward Jindera. I’m back to the car by 12.30pm. And so goes another overnight ride.
How will I ever go back to full-time work in the future? A chick could get used to this lifestyle, even if it is not so stellar financially. But still, my mental health, my blood pressure, my blood work and my asthma are sooo much better than when I worked in academia, even now when there are a lot of other stresses to accommodate. It’s a shame we are pressured into conventional lifestyles which focus on kids, cars, careers, homes, boats, and a 40-hour work week, when there are so many other more satisfying alternatives! Please just give me a bike, a tent, a sleeping bag and the road.